LIVE FROM MWC KIGALI 2023: Jerome Henique, EVP and CEO at Orange Middle East and Africa (pictured), emphasised mobile connectivity and affordable energy are key to social inclusion, as he highlighted the acceleration of small businesses in Africa enabled by its range of digital services.

In his keynote speech, Henique named connectivity, energy and mobile money as the primary enablers of socioeconomic development and the basis of the continent’s digital transformation journey. To help back this ambition, the CEO said Orange has invested more than €1.2 billion to boost its services in Africa. 

This, Henique hopes, can help individuals “wherever they may be, even in the most isolated [areas], study, work, communicate and manage their finances”. 

The executive touted the impact of its digital offerings on local SMEs, pointing to the case of Sebastian, a young entrepreneur in Ivory Coast who began opening his business as a hairdresser without leaving his home. 

In Sub-Saharan Africa,“the informal economy still plays a central role, accounting for up to 86 per cent of jobs” as well as 83 per cent of borrowing or loans carried outside conventional financial institutions, which makes mobile money the solution “for banking the unbanked”, Henique said. 

With mobile financial platform Orange Money and Orange Smart Energy, an initiative which involves the instalment of solar kits, Henique said Sebastian can manage his business from his mobile phone.

The operator also touted the progress of its mobile banking service Orange Bank Africa, which offers microloans to businesses and recently exceeded one million customers, and its start-up incubator programme, Orange Digital Centre, which currently develops more than 200 start-ups and provides a range of support spanning training and investment.

Notably, he pointed to Digital Nisa, a Senegalese start-up it helped develop which provides IT training for women who have dropped out of school.

Henique argued that the role of operators “cannot be limited to purely economic contributions”, adding digital skills and capabilities are necessary to reduce the digital gap.